By Katherine Oostman
Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock), a first-time crew member of the space shuttle Explorer, joins astronaut veteran Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney) on his final mission. Houston alerts them that shrapnel from a destroyed satellite is headed their way—they have only seconds to respond. The crew is scattered through open space. They are alone; no one is coming to save them.
So begins “Gravity,” a tale of survival deemed by James Cameron (director of “Avatar”) as “the best space film ever made.”
Before Dr. Stone entered space, she lost the purpose that tethered her to reality—her daughter died in a playground accident. As she journeys into space, she literally and figuratively has to work to rediscover the gravity in her life—what holds her to this world.
The journey of a broken person finding purpose is not an unfamiliar one among films. However, “Gravity” redefines the stakes, creating an emotional tension that pressurizes the entire experience. Throughout the storyline, “Gravity” strands its viewers in a void with their own weaknesses and demands they face them.
If the drive to survive despite incomprehensible odds is not enough to leave viewers breathless, the visual effects of this film are. “Gravity” took four years to create as director Alfonso Cuarón and his son Jonás developed the technology to make it possible. The majority of the film was shot in a sound stage with the actor suspended in a special harness.
The director spoke to them through an intercom much like Houston speaks to astronauts. An innovative LED panel attached to a robotic arm moved around the actor to create the illusion of spinning and to light them like stars would. All the lighting changes and arm movements were pre-programmed, which means the actors had to have perfect timing. From that blank slate, a highly-skilled visual and sound effects team brought outer space to life.
“Gravity” exemplifies all the features cinema strives for: honest acting, stunning visuals, precise sound design and a relatable story.
Dr. Stone’s struggle, though inserted in a very foreign environment for most viewers, resonates because the story shows us how daunting real-life catastrophes can seem in the moment. Sandra Bullock’s authentic portrayal of the struggle for hope brought this idea to life.
Though this film was designed for 3D, it is nearly just as stunning in 2D. “Gravity” is a completely immersive experience. Everything from the lighting on the actors’ faces, to the sounds of their breathing, to the sight of the sun rising, makes you feel like you’re a part of this story. In this film, space is a live character inviting viewers to interact with its power and participate in its story.